Rolex Big Boat Series ready for another 50 years
Published on September 14th, 2014
San Francisco, CA (September 14, 2014) – A year after the contest for the 34th America’s Cup, world-class sailing is still alive and well on San Francisco Bay. In fact, for the last four days (Thursday, September 11 through Sunday, September 14), the 50th Anniversary edition of the Rolex Big Boat Series has hosted hundreds of sailors on 99 teams, rotating onto three strategically-placed race circles that triangulate the constant wind and tide challenges of the largest Pacific estuary in the Americas.
Having developed stadium sailing long before the America’s Cup made it a local colloquialism, the St. Francis Yacht Club ensured fast fun for spectators as well as competitors by designing each day’s second race (always sailed in a blustering afternoon breeze) to finish within cheering distance of the clubhouse’s famous second-story race deck that commands attention east to Alcatraz Island and west to a sun-drenched, or alternately fog-enshrouded, Golden Gate Bridge.
After all was sailed and done, victors were named in ten classes (ORR, HPR, BAMA/Multihull, J/70, J/105, J/111, J/120, Melges 24, Express 37, Farr 40) and six prestigious St. Francis Yacht Club trophies and seven Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner timepieces were awarded.
Perhaps most appreciative of the Rolex and the trophy (the Richard Rheem Perpetual) he had earned was Alex Roepers (New York, N.Y.) in the Farr 40 class. Like the other 14 Farr 40 teams here, his Plenty is preparing for the class’s World Championships in October, also to be hosted by St. Francis Yacht Club. Plenty, which won the Farr 40 North Americans in May, finished with a point score of 13, a whopping 24 points ahead of 2013 Farr 40 World Champion Enfant Terrible, skippered by Italy’s Alberto Rossi.
“There is a lot of improvement, still, that we can make,” said the native Dutchman, who secured the Farr 40 circuit championship title with his performance here as well, “but clearly we are on a trajectory and a mission to do really well at the Worlds.” Having last sailed on the Bay here in 1996, Roepers said it was all he remembered it to be. “It is one of the most spectacular venues in the world. The breeze is so “on,” the vistas are incredible, and with the organization of the St. Francis Yacht Club, this is an absolutely outstanding event.”
Farr 40 Class Manager Geoff Stagg said that when seven more Farr 40s join the fleet in October, the cumulative talents onboard will be mind boggling. “You can see it on the water already – the experience of the crews here, with several of the tacticians coming from the last America’s Cup (case in point:Terry Hutchinson aboard Plenty and Ray Davies aboard Wolfgang Schaefer’s Struntje Light). They spent a year or more here learning the Bay inside-out, so they know it better than any local.”
After a mediocre start in the HPR class’s first race, Whiplash improved steadily and stayed consistently in the top three for the remainder of the week, a performance skipper Donald Payan (Hillsborough, Calif.) attributes to the strength of his team. “One of the big reasons I race this boat is because of these guys,” said Payan, gesturing towards his team. “They work so hard at getting the most out of this boat, and we’re going faster than ever before. The boat is great, and I really enjoy racing in HPR, as the competition was really tough this week.” Whiplash took home the City of San Francisco Trophy and the Rolex watch for its performance.
The oldest trophy for this 50-year-old event is the St. Francis Perpetual Trophy, and it was awarded, along with the Rolex, to the winner of ORR, Wayne Koide’s (San Enselmo, Calif.) Sydney 36 Encore, which lead its class from day one.
Dorian McKelvy’s (Portola Valley, Calif.) Madmen looked to be the favorite in the J/111 class for the Atlantic Perpetual Trophy and the Rolex, but after two days of leading, the team succumbed to Rob Theis’s (Los Altos, Calif.) Aeolus, who wound up only one point ahead of Madmen in the final standings.
Kame Richards’s Golden Moon, a longstanding favorite in the Express 37 Class, did not disappoint this year, winning six out of the seven races of the week to claim the Keefe-Kilborn Perpetual Trophy and a Rolex watch.
The J/105s made up the largest fleet at Big Boat this year, and Bruce Stone’s Arbitrage held the lead every day, earning the team the Commodore’s Cup plus the Rolex watch. “This is the toughest fleet in the country I think,” said Stone who missed winning last year by a narrow margin. “We felt that the courses were really interesting compared to the past, and St. Francis Yacht Club did a really excellent job,” he said. “For us, it was all about keeping the boat moving with all the lulls and gusts and changing of conditions and tides.”
In J/120s, a tight race between David Halliwill’s (New York N.Y.) Peregrine and Barry Lewis’s (Atherton, Calif.) Chance tilted to Peregrin’s favor for the Rolex watch that was awarded in that class.
Don Jesberg’s Viva and Any Costello’s Double Trouble topped the scoreboard all week in the Melges 24 and J/70 Class, respectively. Tom Seibel’s MOD70 Orion made a strong rebound from its third-place finish last year, winning the Multihull Class, which was introduced to the event two years ago. To make sense of how fast the 70-foot trimaran was flying, Orion’s Navigator Peter Isler explained, “Johnny Heineken was keeping pace with us the whole day.” (Heineken, a Kiteboard Courseracing World Champion is seen almost daily kitefoiling on the Bay.)
Isler, an America’s Cup veteran and California native who grew up racing on San Francisco Bay, added, “I don’t go back 50 years, but I go back a long time with the Big Boat Series, and when people ask me ‘Where is the best place you’ve ever sailed,’ San Francisco always comes to mind. I love the tradition of racing and of St. Francis, and of course we’ve been on a non-traditional boat the last few years, but that is cool, too!”
Report by Media Pro Intl. Photo by Rolex / Daniel Forster.